Most classes in the first part of semester were held by guest lecturer Alexis Latham. Alexis graduated at Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama in 1990 and has worked since as an actor, director and a trainer. Later on, to teach he was followed by such names as András Bálint Kovács, the head of ELTE’s Department of Film Studies; Zsusza Gurbán, who as an assistant director worked with Steven Spielberg; and István Szabó, Academy Award winner director. Besides them, Jenő Hódi, the founder of Budapest Film Academy also held classes, sometimes alone, sometimes bringing other guests: Iván Kamarás, award winning Hungarian actor, and James Chankin, American director-producer.
The main theme of the half-year course was the connection between the director and the actor. To create this, Alexis helped with teaching the theatrical language that contained elements like the levels on tension, the status, the relationship of the characters, and the change. These communication tools were practiced through small, sometimes brought in, sometimes improvised scenes. They were not only directed but also performed by the students, thus gaining valuable experiences. It’s not a coincidence that many famous director finished an acting course to witness things from the other viewpoint. The students of Budapest Film Academy got both sides during the same class.
András Bálint Kovács – as the only Doctor of Science in Hungary in the field of Film Studies, whose main research area is the modern European art film – had a presentation about authorial films. In the first part of the class, he listed the differences such as the conflict, which, in case of genre movies are always external, while here they take place inside the character’s psyche. In the second half, he demonstrated all of these through examples like Peter Greenaway’s movie The Cook the Thief His Wife & Her Lover.
Jenő Hódi held a class about commercials and their importance. Jenő gathered many experiences by directing them. He learned from his own mistake that you always have to follow the client’s instructions, even if you have a better idea. He not only shared his wisdom, but also introduced an opportunity to shoot commercials for three big brands: Men’s Health, Sony and Schweppes. Two of those were shot in December by the students of Budapest Film Academy.
Zsuzsa Gurbán – who worked in a number of Hungarian and foreign productions as first and second assistant director – talked about the various difficulties that can come up during a shooting. To complement her presentation, she brought several illustrations, including call sheets and location plans from big Hollywood productions like the new Die Hard.
Jenő Hódi held two additional classes, first with Iván Kamarás, then James Chankin, with whom he’ll work on a feature film in the spring. In a friendly conversation they talked about finding our movie’s target group, and the different methods of pitching: how to sell our project to an investor, an actor or someone from the targeted audience. James shared his experiences about working in a foreign country, and how he became a producer-director from a simple location scout in just a couple of years.
István Szabó opened his lecture with the one thing that only film can show and no other art forms: the living face, the face that can’t be seen from the last row in a theatrical play. He emphasized that it’s important to live in front of the camera and not play, and that the actor must be charismatic and energetic. He also mentioned that every era has a different face that represents the desires of the audience, like Greta Garbo, Ingrid Bergman, Marlene Dietrich, Marilyn Monroe, Jane Fonda and Meryl Streep. Taking this into account you have to pay attention at casting so the actor not only suits reality but the age as well. After this, he said that filmmaking is a collective art form, and it’s the director’s job to oversee that whether the project is heading into a good direction. For this, the Oscar winner uses his own checklist that contains questions like: what makes the scene go forward, or what human emotions are there to pay attention to.
The semester was finished with Alexis coming back to summarize what we learned, and every student had the chance to direct a small scene to get their grades for the half-year. In the next semester we’ll go forward with the introduction and creation of memorable characters, and the students will shoot the scenes wrote by those who go to Screenwriting class.
My first directing class experience
The first directing class I had was held by Alexis Latham. The main theme of the lecture surrounded the question of tension, mainly from the actor’s point of view. You need to know about Alexis that he loves interactivity, so in every task we had to have physical presence.
In task at the beginning of the class, one of us sat in the middle of room, with us, two dozen strangers in a circle surrounding him. We had to watch him, while he stared at a given spot. This sounds like a very simple thing, but we could sense his tension. If we place a desk in front of him, another chair, another person, how does the situation change? Small things, but they still change everything.
Alexis introduced us to different energy levels. Tell your actors what kind of feelings should flow around in them. It will change their way of walking, their aura, their speech, their comfort, their whole character.
A few students brought scenes from famous movies. Those who brought them could direct them. They got themselves a partner from class to work with. We could feel what it’s like to be in the actor’s shoes.
It was great, even when you had to pretend dead lying on the ground. We used the stuff we learned in class, the energy levels, how they affect each other, how much tension do they generate when colliding. How does the tension change, if you’re a bit slower, faster, from a small movement, or if you start in a different pose?
We also learned important lessons about ourselves. People need a feeling of comfort to perform, the same with actors. It’s also the director’s task to create the proper environment for the actors. Alexis, as an actor knows this perfectly, and as a teacher he made us experience it ourselves.
Máté Porkoláb (ELTE-Budapest Film Academy)
In Budapest Film Academy’s fall semester, we were introduced to the basics of directing along with tips and tricks, as always, with the help of a number of professionals in the film industry. The various aspects and approaches helped us to see directing from different points of view, since the number of directors the number of unique ideas. Throughout the semester, Jenő Hódi, Alexis Latham, Róbert Koltai, András Bálint Kovács, Krisztina Goda, Attila Varró and Nimród Antal took the stage.
Jenő Hódi, who’s the founder of the institution, a director, writer and producer, held the very first lecture and talked comprehensively about his work, and the director’s tasks and importance. After screening the student films made last semester, through them he explained the director’s concepts and mistakes that we have to pay attention to, and how to work with the cinematographer and the editor to get the best results out of them.
Alexis Latham, an actor, director and a trainer, was the link between all the lecturers: he held classes every other week. He presented one of the most important points of directing, the relationship with your actors, all of this from an interesting and very useful standpoint. With the tables set aside, we learned the different attitudes you can assign your actors on ourselves, by doing short improvisations. We get different acting performances if we give them Californian, natural, curious, passive, tragic, catatonic or melodramatic characteristics. We had to act out a one-page screenplay in groups, where someone, chosen to be the director, had to pick a characteristic to give to the other members of the group. After the scene, we came up with the most fitting directing setting collectively.
Róbert Koltai, an award-winning Hungarian actor, director and screenwriter, brought his film We Never Die (Sose halunk meg) for us to analyze while he told us the working process behind it; how he went from an idea to the realization. As an actor with zero directing experience at the time, even his screenwriter best friend advised him not to do it, but Koltai never gave up. He organized the whole production, the funding, the actors, by himself. He even played the main hero in the film; as he pointed out, a director must be determined all the time.
András Bálint Kovács, film historian and theoretician, a teacher at ELTE, defined the role of the director, talked about framing, actor directions, vision and rhythm. In the second part of the lecture, he read a scene from the short story version of Bergman’s Autumn Sonata and we discussed how we would direct it. After this, he showed us the scene from the film and we compared our concepts to the realized version. We talked about the different choices Bergman made and why we never thought of them. András Bálint Kovács mentioned that what matters the most is what a scene is about: how do the relations and emotions change between the characters. You have to build the technical settings around those changes.
Krisztina Goda, director-screenwriter, brought an extensive Power Point presentation and progressed through that step by step: she taught us what kind of screenplays directors should choose considering factors like personal preference, the audience and a finance standpoint; how to start casting, and why the chemistry is important between the actors. Krisztina Goda thinks it can be to your benefit if you (even if it’s just pictures from Google) put together an imaginary cast, so your crew can start looking for people like that. We also looked at Woody Allen’s Annie Hall, exploring the dramaturgy, the location choices and the aims of scenes.
Attila Varró, a teacher at ELTE, emphasized the thematic approach of genre films. We captured the most familiar motives of genres (western – the wild west; gangster – the underworld; war – collective battle; sport – baseball, box). We compared bits of two films (Trip to the Moon; The Great Train Robbery) and looked at their differences: how do the characters, the conflict and setting differ.
Nimród Antal director was interviewed by Jenő Hódi in an open lecture, which was attended by not only Budapest Film Academy students, but everyone interested, which meant more than 120 people sat in the crowded room. Nimród Antal explained it in an honest way what you need to become a successful director – since there are lots of people who fail to succeed. He started making films even though he didn’t have any friends or relatives in the industry, and got no support in the beginning. Why he did succeed is because he had no plan B, he couldn’t look in any direction but forward. Without a certain amount of naiveté, determination, passion, enthusiasm, openness and some sense of reality to be able to stand out from the crowd. You also need to control your ego, because “if there’s no work, that’s embarrassing”. When your living is on the line, you have to take every opportunity whether it’s a commercial or a screenplay you don’t like. Being a director is not just art it’s also a job that has responsibilities.
At the end of the semester, we had a big Budapest Film Academy party where we could socialize with people taking other courses, and discuss ideas, so we can work together on student films in the spring.
Petra Hadusovzky (Budapest Film Academy student)